The founders of the Sussex Charmer cheese brand have had so much success in the past six years they hope to open a cafe and farm shop on the Downs Link in Rudgwick.
Sussex Charmer, a creation between Rob and Claire Bookham and third generation dairy farmer Tim Harrison, was first born in 2007. Six years on, it has picked up a string of food awards and the owners of the brand, Bookham and Harrison Farms Ltd, have had to move to larger premises to maintain the business - and now have plans to expand.
Rob, 47, went into the cheese-making business with his wife Claire, first making a Parmesan style cheese called Twineham Grange, named after the original location of the creamery.
He said: “It’s the whole goal of the cheese industry to find something that’s different to everyone else. Tim and I had this idea to produce something between a cheddar and Parmasan and linked up with the Harrisons.
“We went to Reaseheath on a cheese making course and we invented Sussex Charmer. We won the award for Best New Diary Product in 2008.
“We thought we had a market for it because we were told by our customers this is what they wanted.
“Last year we won the Best British Modern Cheese at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards.”
They have also won the Best Export Cheese at the National Cheese Awards last year and have contracts to supply the caterers for Royal Ascot and the Chelsea Flower Show.
Last month they struck a deal with Tesco, and an order from them would mean the Sussex Charmer would be available in two British supermarkets. Sainsbury’s has stocked it for a number of years.
Paving the way for the next chapter of the Sussex Charmer’s success story, last year Tim, 44, bought the Brickworks in Lynwick Street, Rudgwick situated on the opposite side of the Downs Link to the family 1,850 acre farm in Rudgwick with his four cousins.
They have refurbished what was the canteen and changing rooms of the old brick making business into an office, industrial fridge for storing the cheese, a kitchen and shop for the Sussex Charmer brand.
With the motto ‘Our cows, Our milk’, Rob and Tim pride themselves on the fact they can trace their products from the field to the shop floor and they want to fill the Brickworks with like minded food businesses.
The pair show us the plans currently being considered by Horsham District Council to expand and have a cafe, shop and car parking for walkers and cyclists using the Downs Link.
Rob said: “When the Harrisons bought this, it gave us the ideal opportunity to bring the businesses together. Now we want to invite people to the farm and have a meeting place here. It’s quite a difficult world to sell your products and we could work off each other, sharing information and clients.”
Tim added: “There’s 70sqft of space here which has potential and we would very much like it give it that foody type feel. We want to encourage people of that kind of ilk.”
But this is a world away from what could have happened a few years ago when production chain looked like it was on its knees.
The landowners of the Twineham creamery announced they were selling the farm for development just a year into the launch.
Tim said: “We spent a lot of time putting together plans for a new creamery in the farm. We ran the numbers and we just couldn’t afford it.
“We were faced with a dilemma. We had the rug pulled from under us, but we’ve got some friends who have their own creamery and were redeveloping it.”
And because of the size of their friend’s creamery in Somerset, it can cope with the large orders, which the old site was never capable of. Rob and Tim visit regularly and play a large part in the production process during which ten litres of milk makes one kilo of cheese.
The strong, but mellow cheese matures for 14 months and then shipped to farm shops and supermarkets around the country. They also continue to produce the Parmesan style cheese as well as butter, pasta sauces and British made pasta for farm shops.
Look out for their cheese on toast trailer at food festivals and County shows in the coming months. For more information, to order products or get involved in their plans at the Brickworks, go to www.bookhams.co.uk or call 01323 696110.